The revised headline for a toned-down commentary in Southern Weekly says, “We are closer than ever before to our dreams”. Image via: SCMP.
Journalists at the Guangdong-based Southern Weekend have issued a rare open challenge to provincial propaganda ministers after the paper was forced to run a puff piece glorifying the Communist Party and drop a planned New Year’s editorial calling for proper implementation of the constitution.
Editors at the paper had already signed off on the New Year’s editorial and left work when the provincial propaganda minister Tuo Zhen allegedly stripped it out and inserted the pro-Party piece in its stead. Such censorship might be considered part-and-parcel of being a journalist in China, but reporters at the paper aren’t going down without a fight. They took to Weibo, posting an open letter to the provincial government accusing them of “raping” the paper’s editorial autonomy.
“We demand an investigation into the incident, which has seen proper editorial procedure severely violated and a major factual error printed,” the open letter said (it has since been harmonised).
A group of former and current reporters at the Guangdong-based Nanfang Daily Group (which publishes a number of China’s most respected and most independent newspapers, including the Southern Weekend and the Southern Metro Daily) went a step further, issuing another open letter calling for Tuo Zhen’s resignation. The full text of the letter is available at Hong Kong University’s China Media Project, some key passages:
It is our view that Minister Tuo Zhen’s actions overstep the bounds (越界之举), that they are dictatorial (擅权之举), that they are ignorant and excessive.
It is our view that in this era in which hope is necessary, he is obliterating hope; in this era in which equality is yearned for, his actions are haughty and condescending; in this era of growing open-mindedness, his actions are foolish and careless; in this era that cares for learning and refinement, his actions are crude and thoughtless.
In recent days, the general attitude at home and overseas following the 18th National Congress has been one of optimism over China’s prospects. This optimism is grounded in the outlook and policy direction of the new leadership. That policy direction includes: Unswervingly pushing ahead with reform and opening, persevering in exercising power under the sunlight [i.e., in an open manner], firmly insisting on the basic principles of the Constitution, and resolutely opposing corruption and bureaucratism (官僚主义).
The actions of Minister Tuo Zhen, in Guangzhou and on the very front lines of reform and opening, are entirely contrary to this policy orientation.
The letter concludes with the following demands:
1. That Minister Tuo Zhen be deemed unsuited to hold his current position and forced to resign according to Article 14 of Provisional Regulations on the Resignation of Party and Government Cadres (党政干部辞职暂行规定), issuing a public apology.
2. That the honor and responsibility of those Southern Weekly editors and reporters who have voiced their objections be recognized and that no punitive actions be taken against them. Also, that their Weibo accounts be reinstated immediately.
3. That the editorial committee of Southern Weekly be allowed to resume its normal operations.
China Digital Times reports that the Central Propaganda Department has leaped into action, battening down the hatches in the only way it knows how:
Urgent notice: Upon receipt of this message, controlling departments in all locales must immediately inform all reporters and editors that they may not discuss the Southern Weekend New Year’s greeting on any public platforms. (January 3, 2013)
Numerous search terms related to the ‘incident’ are now censored on Weibo, Baidu and other platforms, according to observers (read the harmonised tweets at FreeWeibo).
As if the petty censorship and interference with editorial independence wasn’t enough, journalists at the Southern Weekend were further infuriated by the fact that the replacement editorial was so bloody awful. A major factual error (aside from the fact that things are hunky dory with the CPC in charge) was added to story, erroneously claiming that a folk-historical Chinese flood control campaign happened 2,000 years later than it actually did.